All week long, they played spin doctor, having to justify their selection.
On Saturday afternoon, they played their hearts out, and that justification was no longer necessary.
A calendar week before, the Harvard women’s soccer team walked off Ohiri Field after an overtime loss to Columbia, tears flowing freely, believing the season may have come to a close. Five consecutive losses would almost surely leave them out of the NCAA Tournament.
The Selection Committee apparently took a good look at Harvard’s case, and believed what the Crimson knew to be true all along: Harvard is one of the best 48 teams in the country, and deserved to be in the field. And while there have certainly been many words spoken in the past week to justify Harvard’s selection, the team went out and justified it in the best way they knew how. They defeated Quinnipiac on Wednesday and on the following Saturday (Nov. 11) knocked off Hartford (which had received a first-round bye), and now find themselves among the 16 teams in the country still alive and challenging for the NCAA title.
“We always felt that we deserved to be in the tournament field, and we wanted to prove to everyone that the committee didn’t make a mistake by selecting us,” commented head coach Tim Wheaton.
Harvard kicked off the week on Wednesday, Nov. 8, with a 2-1 victory over NEC Champion Quinnipiac on Ohiri Field.
The win propelled Harvard into the game against Hartford, a team that has traditionally given the Crimson trouble – Harvard owned a 1-3-1 record against the Hawks, and had lost to them just two weeks before.
Harvard got an early start, getting on the board in the 11th minute of play. Freshman Katie Westfall fired a rocket from about 35 yards out, and Hartford keeper Anne Lise Nilssen made the save, pushing the ball over her head and off the crossbar. The ball rocketed back out into the box, and Crimson senior Ashley Mattison dove and headed the ball to Nilssen’s left for the 1-0 lead. The teams went into the intermission with Harvard holding the one-goal lead.
The aggressive play continued into the second frame and Harvard caught a break in the 79th minute, when senior Meredith Stewart launched a corner kick into the box and Hartford’s Sandra Kayulu was called for a hand ball. Stewart buried the resulting penalty kick into the left corner of the net to provide Harvard a two-goal cushion heading into the final 10 minutes of the game.
Hartford continued to press, but the Crimson defense became absolutely stifling to the Hawks’ offensive threats. All afternoon, and particularly in the final 15 minutes of the game, the Harvard backfield made sound decisions and took away many scoring opportunities from the hosts.
The Crimson would put an exclamation point on the win in the 82nd minute, as Stewart launched the ball into the offensive third. Sophomore Joey Yenne made a run at the ball, as did Nilssen, coming out of her net. Yenne poked the ball away from Nilssen’s hands, tapped it to the outside left, and buried a sharp-angle shot into the right corner.
The Crimson takes on top-seeded Notre Dame on Friday, Nov. 17.